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National Guards (France and USA)

Artist's impression of members of the French National Guard /

Artist’s impression of members of the French National Guard /

The National Guard in France was founded in July, 1789 to replace the royal soldiers who had been forbidden entry to Paris. Other cities and towns followed suit rapidly, and soon most municipalities had their own troops, under the mandate of the local authority. At first, members tended to be of the richer class, freer and able to be more active than the agricultural or urban working classes, but revolutionary leaders soon realised that the Guard was playing a leading part on the side of the royalists (not the idea at all), so it was suppressed in 1795, only to be reorganised again in 1815, when it became an integral part of the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe (q.v.).

However, the Guard refused to defend the regime in 1848, a signal for the February Revolution to break out. It was broken up again during the Second Empire, but revived and transformed in 1870 in a useless attempt to defeat the Prussians, who were invading France at the time. Then in March, 1871 the Guard rebelled in support of the Paris Commune; many of its members were killed, but it was finally and permanently suppressed after the defeat of the Commune.

The US National Guard on duty in Texas, USA /

The US National Guard on duty in Texas, USA /

In the United States of America the National Guard holds great importance. It signifies the well-armed military reserve of each one of the States, and members are subject to federal or state call-up in an emergency. The Guard was created by Congress in 1915 to serve as an auxiliary to the regular army; its members were volunteers, and there has never been a lack of them, as it is a uniformed and salaried state militia. During any war the Guard is subject to federal (or the President’s) control and can be sent to any war zone, but for wholly political reasons it is rarely sent abroad. In the decades before conscription was suspended, many young people volunteered to enter the Guard’s ranks in order not to be conscripted for the Vietnam War. (more…)

Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela & Archbishop Makarios

Archbishop Makarios /

Archbishop Makarios /

These three names (and the persons themselves) are connected by the historical fact that each was imprisoned as penalty for their nationalism, and each became President of their country. In the case of Kenyatta, he alone of the three did something not tried by the other two: he acted in a Hollywood film made in Africa – Sanders of the river (1935) as a young black tribal chief and troublemaker. Nelson Mandela as a character has appeared in another Hollywood film, played by a black actor, a movie about South African rugby starring a white American, Matt Damon. As far as I know Makarios only appears in newsreels of his period.

Kenyatta was born in 1891 in Kenya, then a British colony. He was well educated by Scottish missionaries who could not, however, persuade him against politics. He joined the Young Kikuyu Association in 1922, and edited a news-sheet with the difficult name of Mwigwithania, representing progressive black opinion in the 30s. He visited London a few times, trying to make lobbies, but went to the USSR more often. (more…)

François Mitterand



Mitterand was a life-long Socialist who served in the brief French military resistance to German might between 1939 and 1940, and is then said to have co-operated with the rather spare French resistance after the Vichy Nazi-dominated occupation government was set up. Resistance to the Nazis was ‘spare’ because the majority of French people had had quite enough of fighting Germans during four or five generations, and were only too pleased to denounce a suspected neighbour to a Vichy official, or, no worse as it happened, the Gestapo. He was born in 1916, in the middle of the Great War, and was elected a Deputy in 1946 at the age of thirty; almost immediately he became a Minister in the post-War Cabinet. From then on he would always hold posts in the Government of the Fourth Republic. (more…)

By | 2015-04-14T12:20:50+00:00 April 14th, 2015|Greek History, World History|0 Comments


/ from a painting by Angus McBride -

/ from a painting by Angus McBride –

These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. (more…)

War in the air Part II: Per Ardua Ad Astra



A scene from the film The Battle of Britain /

A scene from the film The Battle of Britain /

  The Blizkrieg from Nazi Germany that opened the Second War in 1939 showed that apart from tank power, air power was a vital component of Hitler’s war efforts. Germany pounded the meagre defences of Poland from the air, breaking communications, causing death and chaos on a scale not known by the suffering Poles not even during their centuries of abuse by neighbours. Dive-bombers called Stukas were used by the Luftwaffe, and a malevolent touch was added by their fitted sirens, terrorizing populations as the bombers hurtled almost vertically down from brilliant blue skies, releasing their lethal cargo at the last moment before straightening out. Many pilots, very young and with very little experience, did not straighten out, with the result that the Stuka made a bigger hole in the earth than its bombs. The efficient and very fast Messerschmidt I09 and 110 fighters attacked the ramshackle Polish aircraft without mercy, destroying most of the aeroplanes on the ground even before the pilots could climb into them. Many of these young ill-disciplined but courageous young men escaped to England, and were to take an important part in the air Battle of Britain. Assault parachutists were dropped from heavier German aircraft – a new use of air power pioneered by the Germans and quickly copied by Germany’s enemies. Parachutists were extensively used in the attack and invasion of Crete in 1941. (more…)

Ptolemys, poisons and Cleopatra

The Furies pursue a Ptolemy for matricide, from a painting by W.A.Bougereau /

The Furies pursue a Ptolemy for matricide, from a painting by W.A.Bougereau /

There was a lady of Egypt, I’m told

The barge she sat in was of burnished gold;

Her moral code made the sphinx perspire,

Her Roman scandals set the Nile on fire!

They tried to make her marry

Her brother Ptolemy,

She said ‘I won’t ptolerate Ptolemy

To collar me!

I only sell sell to the highest bid . . .

Now she’s hotting up the pharaohs

In the pyramid!

                                 (from Salad Days, a musical by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds)

Ptolemy was a childhood friend, confidant, soldier and general of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian King conquered Egypt in the 4th century BC, and Ptolemy was made the first of a long line of Ptolemaic Pharaohs, ruling Egypt under 30 BC.

   Ptolemy I was a man of outstanding diplomatic, military and organisational abilities. He rose from minor Macedonian aristocracy to become king of Egypt because of the absolute faith Alexander had in him. Many, many Ptolemys followed him in the dynasty he created, but they were a thoroughly bad lot.

Historians, authors and playwrights have given Queen Cleopatra a drubbing for centuries. She stands accused of murdering her brothers (among them a Ptolemy) to remain in power. If she did, and it is most likely that she did – it was nothing new in the family founded by Alexander’s great friend. Cleopatra’s ancestors were a murderous bunch, and Cleopatra herself used to amuse herself (and her maids-in-waiting) by watching the effects of selected poisons on condemned criminals, lazy servants or unsatisfying lovers. (more…)


A bit of a dirty word since 1938 but it shouldn’t be. There is enough appeasement going on now over the disgusting situation in Syria to fill the Golden Bowl with appeasers eager to keep Assad Junior happy. It is all rather puzzling. With one Bush, America went with its cautious allies to war against Iraq because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Firepower won, of course, but Saddam’s government remained! Then Bush Jr. went to war with Iraq with equally cautious allies, beat him up, and permitted the locals to lynch Saddam in a particularly horrible way. Now in Syria the Assad boy kills hundreds of fellow citizens every day, even using poison gas to do it, and the world’s committees sit expensively around asking themselves what to do. (more…)

A child’s guide to the Greek philosophers

Socrates teaching /

Socrates teaching /

I suppose that the Peloponnesian War (q.v.) was, shamefully, the downfall of the ancient Greek Empire. War had penetrated men’s minds and they did bad things. With Pericles as King of all those nation states, the Greeks seemed triumphant, master of the world, but the terrible sack of Melos was allowed, and the Greek ideal, embodied by Athens, was no longer splendid. It was at this worst time for Athens that the great philosophers appeared on the scene. (more…)

By | 2013-08-28T17:08:57+00:00 August 28th, 2013|Greek History, Philosophy, World History|0 Comments

Sparta and things Spartan

A typical Spartan helmet /

A typical Spartan helmet /

Sparta as the English call this spectacular place in the southern Peloponnese (Greece) was a city/state, and the capital of the state of Laconia. This small country was invaded by Dorian Greeks and occupied, in 950 BC. Roughly two hundred years later the newly named ‘Spartans’ emerged as the dominant race, using a large number of slaves brought from surrounding states by force to do all the work on the land. (more…)

By | 2013-05-17T09:58:36+00:00 May 17th, 2013|Greek History, History of the Cinema, World History|1 Comment

Gunboat diplomacy

Warship firing

  It might well have been Lord Palmerston (twice Prime Minister of Britain, 1855- 58, 1859- 65, q.v.) who concreted this term, though gunboat diplomacy in its various forms has been with us for centuries. The term implies diplomacy backed up by the threat of force (a gunboat for example) between countries, one state half-drawing a sword from its scabbard while talking in measured terms with another. It is all about imposing the will, and GD as I will call it was the accepted political force mostly in the nineteenth century.

British myself, I am resigned to the fact that it was Great Britain which used this kind of diplomacy to the greatest effect until the beginning of the First World War, simply because she had a superior navy, which could coerce smaller, weaker nations – sometimes big ones – to bend to her will. (more…)

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